Crisis-torn Europe making Belgrade rethink EU lust – Serbian president-elect

The EU is seeing an “expansion crisis”, and the euro is getting weaker by the day, so joining the union is under question, Serbia's newly-elected president told RT. Tomislav Nikolic has promised to hold a referendum on EU membership.

RT: The International media see you as a nationalist and a right-winger. However you based your election campaign on a good relationship with the European Union.

Tomislav Nikolic: They are absolutely right: I’m nationalist, but I’m a democrat as well! And as for European values, we will respect them because of our constitution, the constitution that Tadic, Kostunica and I wrote together, I respect it. Sincerely I’d like to bring order to Serbia, the way that Germany is organized. Probably a lot of time will pass till the western press accepts me and treats me fairly, as during many years they wrote negatively about me. Now it’s difficult to change this, but after achieving victory in unacceptable conditions, during an incredibly dirty media campaign, it’s more than probable that the media will change their opinion, too. Moreover, I showed that I want to be the president of all the citizens of Serbia. I have resigned as head of the party that I founded only three years ago, and took to the top of the Serbian political scene. I left it as if it was a child. Now my objective is to make Serbia a developed and successful country, and for that I need the support of all citizens, not only of the members of the Progressive Party of Serbia.

RT: Aren’t you afraid of losing the support of your traditional voters over your European stance?

TN: I am not afraid because Europe is a very attractive partner for Serbia and our country should fulfill almost all the conditions that the EU imposes. This process should stop only if they ask us to renounce a part of our territory; I’m referring to Kosovo and Metohija. Until now I’ve been open and sincere with the citizens of Serbia and I’m going to continue cooperating with the people. And the moment they impose such conditions I tell people immediately. I think that is why I won’t lose popularity. In our country the dismissal of a president is almost impossible, nevertheless my term will last five years only if the citizens allow it. If they no longer want to see me in this position, I will go away. Right now I’m convinced that the politics that I have been representing are the only good politics for Serbia.

RT: In your first statement after the elections you said that “Serbia will not turn away from the European path”. And at the same time you’ve promised to hold a referendum where the citizens will have to decide if they want to join the EU or not. Will you keep the promise?

TN: This referendum is going to happen. We agreed with the Democrats that the moment when all the conditions are fulfilled for Serbia’s entry to the EU, will go out to the people with the question, “Do you want to be in the EU?”, and they will decide. That’s how they did it in Croatia only a few months ago, but only after they had fulfilled all the conditions and when the EU had accepted Croatia, then they organized the referendum. I think it’s necessary to cooperate with citizens a lot more than it used to be until now, which doesn’t mean that I’ve rejected the European way. My only fear is that they impose conditions that I personally wouldn’t accept, but probably the citizens would say “let’s fulfill them, too, because we want to be in the EU”. I won with 50% of the vote, and I know that the other half didn’t support my ideas. That’s why I believe that I should ask them too.

RT: You come to power at a time when Serbia is experiencing a difficult economic situation, when the country’s unemployment rate exceeds 24 per cent. On the other hand, Europe also has its problems and it’s becoming poorer day by day. So, why do the Serbs still want to become members of the EU? Are you not afraid that the same Greek scenario could be repeated in your country?

TN: You know Greece is another thing. Greece is a member of the EU which was spending more money than it could afford. Then one day it came out that it didn’t have anything left. It took advantage of the EU, which is not a state, but a union of states that trust one another. Serbia is far behind any of the EU member countries. I’ve had a meeting with the foreign affairs minister of Slovakia, who told me, with a lot of concern, that unemployment in his country is 10 per cent. I told him that we have almost reached 25 per cent, and that our debt by the end of the year will probably surpass 65 per cent of GDP, which would be a catastrophe for the state. Most likely it’s not the debt that is that large, but the GDP of the state that is too low. Serbia should go on trying to be part of the EU, which means much more than simply belonging to a union. This means a well-organized judicial system, human rights, freedom of expression, the struggle against organized crime, bribery and corruption, minority rights – all these are achievements of the EU. Will Serbia enter the EU? I don’t know. First of all they have a crisis of expansion; today it’s clear that we won’t be in the EU in the next 10 years. At the same time they have an existential crisis. The euro is a currency that is turning weaker by the day. On the other hand, it’s a big question, how long is Germany going to help the members of the union. That is to say, how long should the German taxpayer support the countries in crisis. I promised to guide Serbia to a path where no one could say that we don’t want to enter the EU. But the truth is that the world is a lot bigger. My victory is the victory of the ideology of both the EU and Russia, and not “the EU, or Russia”.

RT: That is interesting. You don't think that Serbia will have to choose between the EU and Russia? You think it is possible to keep the right balance between them?

TN: I’d prefer not to have to make the choice. I’d like Serbia to be a home with two doors, one to the West, and the other to the East. Serbia simply belongs to the East as well as to the West. We have a traditional and deep relationship with Russia, not only in terms of origin, but also in religion, history, customs, language; we have complementary industries, we have exceptional economic relations since WWII. Unfortunately, we ruined our industry with meaningless privatization, which led to people losing their jobs. Nevertheless we have the education, we have the will, the power and natural resources to collaborate once again with the Russian Federation at a much higher level.

Since 2000 Serbia has been moving away from Russia, till 2008 when Russia signed with Serbia an energy agreement, allowing our country to breathe more easily. We are already talking about the construction of the South Stream, of large investments in hydro and gas power stations. We should have done it earlier, because the EU shouldn’t think that it’s our unique partner, because this way it could impose really harsh conditions. The country should maintain sovereignty and also have partners in other places, and we shouldn’t forget about the BRICS countries, about the Arab or African world that cooperate very well with Serbia. So, when we open the doors of Serbia to the world, we do so for a prosperous future. That’s why I’ll never choose between Russia and the EU. I know where my heart is and everybody in Serbia knows that, but I also think that we can be a good bridge between Europe and Russia and the best partner of Russia in the EU.

RT: It seems like Serbia is always having to meet new conditions. To become EU members, the other candidates had to join NATO. What if they want you to join it too?

TN: Serbia will never enter NATO, as this is the will of the majority of the Serbian people and the EU will never impose this condition because Serbia doesn’t have any reason to enter. I don’t see any sense in its existence, but if NATO became an organization which, together with Collective Security Treaty Organization would fight against organized crime in the world, then we would participate. Serbia is a small country surrounded by NATO members. There is no one Serbia would start a war with, we don’t need NATO to defend us. We are militarily neutral and it will stay like that forever.

RT: Are you ready to maintain dialogue with Pristina and its leader [Hashim] Thaci?

TN: I am ready to dialogue but not with Hashim Thaci, because of the suspicions that he committed crimes against the Serbian people. He cannot negotiate until the investigation of his case finishes, but I will speak with other (Kosovo) representatives. After the bombing of Serbia in 1999, we left NATO on the territory of Kosovo; we gave them civil and military power. We have our administration in four communities in northern Kosovo and the EU has asked us to abolish these Serbian institutions. We responded that we cannot do so because we have a university there, a hospital, schools and colleges. I just follow the constitution and in Serbia the president is its guarantor. Our constitution says that Kosovo and Metohija are parts of Serbia.

RT: Do you believe that it is possible to divide Kosovo? In this case, what would happen to the Serbs living on the territory acquired by the Albanians?

TN: At this moment, and from the point of view of the constitution, it is not possible. If more of the citizens of Serbia say yes in a referendum? I don’t know. But the Serbians who live outside these four communities in the north depend on Pristina, KFOR, UNMIK and EULEX. International society, especially the United Nations, should guarantee its absolute security and Serbia should guarantee a good life. That's something that Serbia avoided a bit. I will do my best so that the Serbs in Kosovo can live from their work without waiting for assistance and depending on the institutions of Pristina because this would start indirect recognition of Kosovo's independence.

RT: In Russia, as well as in Serbia you hear very often that The Hague Tribunal is unfair to the Serbs. Do you plan to continue the cooperation with the Tribunal initiated by the Democrats? 

TN: I have been a team leader who defended Vojislav Seselj and I struggled against Carla Del Ponte (former chief of The Hague Tribunal) for many years, even personally. In Strasbourg we had a very difficult conversation in the presence of many parliamentarians of the European Council. The Hague Tribunal will exist until the situation in the world changes. People have been convicted there; people are dying there but the tribunal has the support of all the countries and so far no one has launched a process to stop it. Anyway it will be closed soon because there are few processes left, and it will close in a fairly negative way for the global justice system, as the former president of Serbia (Slobodan Milosevic), died in The Hague, the presidents of Croatia and Bosnia have not been convicted. Discrimination of the Serbian people began long ago and today nothing has changed and segregation continues. Obviously it's not fair, but the Serbian government adopted a law on cooperation with the Hague Tribunal. We have to respect that law and stand it, like we've endured many injustices in this world.